Down the Rabbit Hole - from Massachusetts to Jamaica / by Suzanne Long

The Old House at Peace field, home of Abigail and John Adams, Second President of the United States of America, in Quincy, Massachusetts.

The Old House at Peace field, home of Abigail and John Adams, Second President of the United States of America, in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Adams National Historic Park (, of the birthplaces and homes of John Adams, the Second US president, and his son and family, which of course includes John Quincy Adams, the 6th US president. One of the properties I was able to tour is the Old House at Peace field, located in Quincy, MA near Braintree, which John and Abigail Adams purchased in  1787, and made their residence after returning from England in 1788, where John Adams was serving as the first United States ambassador to England after the Revolutionary War.

The property is very interesting, of course. Photos aren't allowed inside the historic homes, but you are allowed to take photos outside, and so I did, being charmed by the ivy trailing down and shading the old porch. This is the photo I shared to Instagram and Facebook yesterday:  

Then, a rum friend, seeing a similarity in pattern, posted this photo of the beautiful Rhum JM bottle with a decorative wrap: 


... but that got me thinking. I heard the guide say that John and Abigail Adams had purchased the property at Peace field after a British Loyalist sugar cane plantation owner either fled or had his lands confiscated following the Revolutionary War, and that the plantation owner had been from Jamaica. Sugar cane in the 18th century pretty frequently means rum production too, so I did a little digging. What I discovered was that the former owner of the estate that became Peace field (John Adams named the estate) was Major Leonard Vassall, born in Jamaica but living in Massachusetts.  He purchased the parcels of land in 1730 to build a home, and passed away in 1737. The home stayed in the Vassall family until Adams acquired it. From Major Leonard Vassall's will, published on the World Connect Roots Web Ancestry project, I was able to learn that he had multiple sugar cane plantation holdings in Jamaica. One was a "plantation and sugar cane works" in Luana, Parish of St. Elizabeth's, and another at New Savannah, also in St. Elizabeth's, both near Appleton's location. There are records of rum being produced at New Savannah by 1777. The Vassalls also had a sugar cane plantation in the 1700s at "Green Island River near Orange Bay in Parish of Hannover at west end of Jamaica," according to Leonard Vassall's will, dated June 10, 1737.

It's interesting to note that lots of sugar cane is still grown in the Parish of St. Elizabeth today, and that Appleton Estate (founded in 1749) is about 35 km (or 20 miles) from where the sugar cane works in Luana was likely located. I haven't visited this location personally, so I have no idea if there are any traces of it left. 20 miles was a little bit of a journey by 18th Century standards, but it would still be possible to travel back and forth inside of one day on horseback if one needed to, so we can reasonably assume these two plantations at least knew about each other. 

The book Jamaica Surveyed by B. W. Higman, while somewhat difficult to track down, lays out in exquisite detail maps and plans of 18th century plantations in Jamaica. It is available for a terrifying sum to purchase on Amazon ($850.00), for slightly less from The University of the West Indies Press ($75.00) or you might be able to get your local library to inter-library loan it to you.

The University College London has an online record of these sorts of land and property transactions, because, deplorably at that time, slavery was still a large part of sugar production. You can see the ongoing record of rum being produced at the Vassall's New Savannah estate at this link :

Details on Major Leonard Vassall's will: